Despite the fact that they had been saved and were no longer lost, Arnold had wanted them to travel on their own. He made no secret that he did not trust the avian conductor in his familiar hat and cloak, nor passengers who he was sure would turn on them immediately or drop them off at Bump.
Both Avariel and Beryl had ignored him, accepting the generosity of the sad people on the train. One had been a young woman who had dreamed of her upcoming wedding when she passed. Others were business men and women, all of which had lost their dreams in a rock slide. It was not long before Avariel and the others realized that they had boarded Engine 7, the Ghost Train of New Babbage.
Tepic looked older than ever as he worked his shift, the same as any other day, when a man showed up and asked for Tepic in ‘the Name of Progress’, and told him it was about Beatrixe.
Arnold announced that he would hold a meeting with everyone in the next five minutes and refused to acknowledge that they existed during that interval. When it was finally time he spoke up in a cheery sounding tone that still carried an angry edge, that some were already ignoring.
“Thank you everyone for attending the meeting. It can’t have missed your attention that tempers are strained. We’ve boarded the infamous Engine 7, we’re surrounded by dead people, and supplies are low.” Beryl ignored his rumbling stomach. He still did not know how long it had been since he had eaten at Erica’s, but there had not been any food to be found on the locomotive either. “So I thought if it was alright with you, that we could gather up right here and you could enjoy a coffee or a tea or whatever poison you like to swill and get all our feelings out at once.”
Arnold didn’t wait for a response as he began, “Do you know what it is about Avariel that just makes me want to regurgitate? That makes me want to take her out back and stab her in both eyes with a branding iron?” Arnold paused for a moment and then shouted, “Everything, that’s what! Especially her nauseating, misplaced, unfaltering optimism.” Avariel just seemed to giggle at the ‘disgruntled kitty’.
“And as for Henri and these ghosts, what a bunch of unbelievable gits!” The Conductor cackled madly from the front, but the passengers were not amused.
“And you, if you don’t change back into the neurotic mess that had been me, I swear I’m going to fry you on the third rail like a Kippered Kraken!” Arnold took a single deep breath and then continued in a slightly calmer tone. “There, I feel better already. I can’t wait for our next meeting in the next hour or two when we’ll be discussing how stupid it was to board a train that derailed and killed everyone aboard! Wonderful!”
For one blissful moment, Beryl imagined tossing Arnold out of the window and laughing as the head bounced back and forth from the cavern walls and the train until he was ultimately run over. Arnold probably realized that many people were having the same fantasy as Beryl, but that did not change his demeanor.
Erica had not seen Beryl or Avariel for weeks, but she had kept up her duties with Beatrixe. When one of the other heroes returned she had been elated. She’d run to Mudfoot happily and had been shocked as he reached out a cold hand to grab her.
She tried to escape his metallic clutch, but now she saw that one of his eyes was missing, and that the cold metal of a clockwork was underneath the skin that he was wearing. She asked him not to harm Beatrixe, but it seemed she had been his target from the start.
Avariel cheerfully told everyone about their impending coup of the Power Station so that she could get everything back to normal. They told them that they had assisted the Heroine get inside along with Doohan and the Huntsman, but had never come back out again.
On that note, the Conductor shouted that anyone who was still alive might want to jump off when they arrived. Arnold grunted at this announcement and asked once more, “Why couldn’t we have just gone through the Gangplank?”
“I left it behind me. That was the plan.”
“Our plan was stupid. What else is new?” Arnold glanced at him and then grudgingly admitted, “Making bad plans and choices, and then sticking to them no matter how stupid they are–I guess that’s something we still have in common.”
Beryl felt as if he had just been slapped. It was a long time before he spoke again.
The captives were being gathered near the creature, but there was only one entrance from the route that the cat had taken and the trap was set. Every Doberman and the Man In Blue himself was waiting there to end this there. The walls of that entrance were lined with growling Dobermans and in the center of the ambush was the Man in Blue himself, who was waiting to ask “What took you so long?”
“It’s almost June?!” Beryl asked in shock. It had been Feburary when he had last walked the waking world.
“Oh yes,” Avariel assured him. “Unless my internal clock is mistaken it is May 31st!”
“You could have mentioned you had one of those!” Arnold shouted and then took a deep breath and turned his gaze back to Beryl. “I guess you should have tried a little harder to escape. How many times did you try?”
“I didn’t.” Beryl confessed lightly, thinking back to what must have been months in the darkness of that cell. “I was…waiting for this place to show me what it wanted me to do.”
Arnold twitched slightly, angrily, “You didn’t even TRY?!”
“I didn’t see the point,” Beryl admitted with a shrug. “I was patient.”
“You could have at least tried to bribe someone! Here, I’ll show you how!” Arnold took a moment to gain his composure and then quickly asked, “Give me something to work with, something that you might have slipped that you needed or wanted.”
“I don’t know…” Beryl said the first thing that came into his mind. “Bricks?”
“Bricks?! You want Bricks?!” Arnold twitched once again as he bellowed, “Fine! I’ll give you bricks! I’ll give you all the bricks you want!! Just let me out!!”
“What kind of a bribe was that?!“
“I don’t know, you are the soft-head who wanted bricks!!“
Beryl sighed and put his head down waiting for the argument to end, but Arnold kept on going, becoming more imaginative in his insults as he continued.
It was thankfully not long before the Conductor finally called out that anyone who was still among the living might want to get ready to jump off the train.
Beryl went to the last car of the train, Avariel trailing behind him excitedly, ready to jump from the train after it hit the brakes. They had just come to a large watery cavern that was filled with exotic mushrooms. An ornate door with the symbol of a unicorn on it had stained glass windows on either side showing them that they had reached their destination. The end of the tracks were easily 400 feet away from this entrance, but the train was not slowing down.
The locomotive shook as the front cars plowed through the barricades and powered towards the door wildly. Beryl and Avariel jumped to the safety of the water below as the train crashed forward once again and plowed through the door. Rock and stone flew everywhere as the train broke apart into a horrid mess of wheels and rail cars. Debris from the roof buried everything as the cavern shook, Doberman’s whined in terror and the Man in Blue himself was soon crushed by the train itself, all the while the Conductor laughed.
Beryl and Avariel made their way to the shore though it was a surprise she could float at all. Her flamethrower was completely useless now. They looked at each other and made their way to the cars, hoping to enter one of them on the outside and make their way in, while Arnold muttered they would have been better off just surrendering from the beginning.